The Hidden God is a False God


Perhaps the easiest sorts of religious beliefs to critique are those that are the easiest to go and check if they are true. When such believers say something about the natural world, then all the tools of science can potentially come into play to see if they are right and if some other explanation is viable. Because of that, things like Young Earth Creationism are easily disprovable and has been for over a century. Same with anyone that is a geocentrist or flat-earther.

But not everyone believes in god-like beings that are so obviously wrong, and there are often clever beliefs out there that are in fact designed to not be detectable by the sciences.

Original Face-Palm?

Enter into the recent venture by the BioLogos Institute. With a LOT of funding by the Temptleton Foundation (on the order of $2 million), these groups want to find ways to make sure the sciences, namely evolution, can be consistent with Christian beliefs. They have to deal with things like original sin if there wasn’t an original couple (i.e. Adam and Eve), among other things.

Jerry Coyne gave some highlights, especially one research proposal by John Mullen to make it so a hidden creator is what we would expect. To quote the interesting part:

 The proximate goal is to show that evolutionary biology lends very little evidential support to Philosophical Naturalism over Classical Theism.  To do this, it must be shown that a gradual creation is an expected consequence of Theism.  We may reasonably suppose that God, to accomplish His purposes as we can reasonably perceive them, must remain hidden to us to the point of leaving Naturalism as a “live-option” for us given our publically-accessible evidence.  If so, God has good reasons to create gradually and can reasonably be expected to do so.  This conflicts with a tendency most of us have to think that God would want to make His presence obvious to us.

The hidden-god problem is one that philosophers have looked into, but we don’t even need to go into the depths of philosophy to see how the project by Dr. Mullen is failed before it even starts.

Perhaps he can come up with a particular theism in which hiddenness by the god is basically expected. However, on simple atheism, a world with no evidence of a god is already 100%. There is no way simple theism can have hiddenness of their god be 100% expected, so through basic Bayesian reasoning, atheism gets a boot from sciences like evolution that show no signs of design by supernatural forces. For Mullen to have a particular theism that can even approach having a 100% consistency with there being no evidence for a god he has to introduce ad hoc statements about such a god (or gods). Namely, that god has to want to be hidden for some reason. We know this is ad hoc because there are extremely few god concepts in which the gods want to be unknown by evidence. Ishtar wasn’t trying to hid herself from humans (including the occasional one that had sex with her), and the same for her Greek counterpart Aphrodite. Thor wasn’t one to be playing hide-and-seek with humanity, nor did Krishna.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the god most Christians believe in has done all sorts of things that should have been noticeable, including a bunch of miracles in Egypt with Moses, the fires called down by Elijah (1 Kings 18, 2 Kings 1), some Palestinian dude coming back from the dead (what’s his name, again?), oh, and a horde of zombies that come up after that person gets killed (Matt 27:52-3). Subtle? Hidden? Doesn’t seem that way for most Christians.

So this means that Mullen has two things that will hurt the prior probability of his theism. First, he has to go from general theism to a particular group, Christian theism; whatever the prior probability of a general god existing, a Christian god existing has to be less probable by simple set theory. But now we have to have a rather particular Christian theism, which again will lower the prior probability. So even if Mullen can come up with a perfect excuse for why his version of the Christian god does not reveal itself in the natural world, it has still hurt itself by bringing itself down with ad hoc additions to the prior probability. In other words, even by creating his excuse for why god isn’t obvious, he makes god more improbable.

So no matter what his argument is, by simple logic we know the best he can do is minimize the damage; no matter what though, his theism has either the evidence against it (no physics evidence for anything other than natural causation) or has to have additions to the belief to make it consistent with reality. And considering I have estimated even the simplest form of theism possible to have a prior probability of no better than 1 in 100 billion,  making his god consistent with evolution is not going to make the belief rational.

Worse still, to be really consistent with his hypothesis, there is only one category of Christian belief that can work with this divine hiddenness idea: Christ mythicism. There cannot now have been a Galilean running around in the 1st century doing miracles and coming back from the dead. That would have been notable to us observers. In Luke 24, for example, Jesus goes out of his way to show he is really, really observable and not a ghost or hallucination. The only out is to take the Gospel stories as allegorical literature (i.e. fictions) and instead believe that Jesus was some sort of supernatural being that did all of its deeds in a realm that was not of the observable world. In other words, something like that described by mythicist Earl Doherty. Then knowledge of Christ is via revelation. (Then again, isn’t revelation also getting away from divine hiddenness? Paul talks about getting some direct contacts by God, such as in Galatians 1, so do we have to take him as not really chatting with the celestial Jesus as well?)

The whole thing is a house of cards, the god that cannot even work as well as atheism (which again, conforms to the evidence perfectly with no ad hoc additions) and that excludes almost all Christians. You know, the one that people believe actually raised corpses from the dead, who will do the same in the future, and who currently sends other beings such as angels to the world right now.

So it looks to me that the Templeton Foundation is doing well to burn $2 million. I guess if they can’t use that money to find evidence of a god (you know, how you would actually know anything about the world?), it has to go to futile things. Besides, what are you going to do with such a fortune? Help the sick and dying? You know, the ones that the hidden god can’t help but atheists can?

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